“For god’s sake man! You’re dealing with people’s childhoods here!” In celebration of the 40th anniversary of a truly great piece of literature, Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I would like to place any blame about the state of modern society on the current-day equivalents, as well as give the caterpillar some well-earned birthday cake. Our offering to future generations is now Charlie and Lola, who are cute up to a certain point (the first page).
The incessant growth of the Charlie and Lola collection is driven purely by parent's inexplicable attraction to hilariously ungrammatical titles such as ‘I’m Really Ever So Not Well’ or ‘I Completely Know About Guinea Pigs.’ That and a shameless television show based on these hilarious adventures. It seems kind of ironic that the humour and appeal of the cute picture books is lost on the target audience, who, in their impressionable state, are presented with bad grammar and giggling parents who probably indulge in it. Perhaps then credit is due to the author (yes, the title of authorship is definitely earned, because these books are supposed to take a lot of thought,) Lauren Child, for not continuing these bad examples inside the covers.
The Charlie and Lola books aren’t the end of humanity as we know it **cough** Angelina Ballerina **cough**, but their biggest crime is a simple lack of imagination. If you ever wanted to pick one up, as I did out of curiosity, this step-by-step should be a spoiler: Charlie usually wants to do something (the boy seems to have an anachronically active social life for someone his young age) and Lola, ever the contrarian, needs/wants to do something else. Charlie, with his infinite brotherly patience and wisdom, ends up spending his time with Lola, and all without any amount of resentment for the lessons he has to give to his little sister in the place of absent parents. A metaphor for the child-parent dynamic when actually reading a Charlie and Lola book, of course.
Eric Carle and his mastery of this fiction should make Lola just not very keen on not spiders, especially not the ‘Very Busy’ ones. The protagonists of Carle’s books are remnants of a Disney untainted by adult in-jokes and innocently touching on the child’s fascination with the unknown world. Always accompanied by beautiful illustrations, Carle’s characters play on the colourful imaginations of their audience and subtly teach them simple lessons. The Very Busy Spider, The Bad-Tempered Ladybird, The Mixed-Up Chameleon and The Very Quiet Cricket each hold their own moral problems and resolutions. This is all without the questions being blatantly asked by an annoying little girl whose condition many of us wished had worsened after she exclaimed “I’m Really Ever So Not Well.”
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is the perfect example of how modern children’s picturebooks lack the simplicity of a past time. He was just hungry.